125 Years of Historical Preservation
When the Hunterdon County Historical Society (HCHS) was formed in 1885, our stated mission was “to aid in the discovery, collection, and preservation of every variety of material illustrative of the history of Hunterdon County and of New Jersey.” After 125 years of pursuing our mission, our museum, library, and archives are filled with objects, textiles, portraits, written histories and genealogies, maps, newspapers, archival manuscripts, and many other interesting items that preserve and document the rich history and tradition of Hunterdon County.
As early as the 1970’s, the Society recognized that the amount of manuscript material in the Hiram E. Deats Memorial Library was exceeding the capacity for the Librarian to care for it. With the clear understanding that the manuscripts were a priceless resource that needed to be preserved, the HCHS began an “archives project” in 1978. First one, and then another basement room of the Doric House were retrofitted into secure, climate controlled vaults for the purpose of archival storage. A federal grant made possible the hiring of the Rev. George Kreutler to be the Society’s first Curator of Manuscripts. Working part time, Rev. George began the laborious process of preserving, arranging and describing some of the more informational collections of manuscript material. Upon his untimely passing in 1994, Rev. George had completed the preservation of the first 58 collections in the Society’s Archives, as well as thousands of photographs and bound manuscript ledgers. Many of those collections remain some of the Society’s most heavily referenced materials today.
In 1994, the Society hired Ron Schultzel to continue the tradition of maintaining the “archives project.” In the ensuing 10 years, Ron added a great deal of material product to the archives, completing 14 additional manuscript collections while helping to add more items to the map, bound manuscript, and image collections. Ron also assisted in the reference operations of the Society, helping to maintain a knowledgable presence in the reference room and freeing up some of the Director’s time for other tasks.
In 2004, after Ron’s retirement, the Society hired Donald Cornelius to continue the project. Don’s first task, which took almost three years, was to finish the largest single collection in the Society’s possession: The Hiram E. Deats Papers II, a massive collection of 122 boxes of manuscripts, images, and other items left to the Society by the heirs of Mr. Deats. Don’s second task was to train a cadre of interested volunteers into the mysterious workings of the archives so that he would no longer have to work as a “lone arranger.”
In 2009, HCHS completed an ambitious construction project and moved into a brand new, state of the art archival building in the Historic District of Raritan Township. This large building, with security, climate control, safety systems, and high capacity storage installations, became the operational work center of the HCHS Archives. The building is large enough to house both the needs of the HCHS Archives and to provide long term storage for library and museum objects not currently being used. Since the big move of 2009, the volunteer archival staff have become extremely productive and efficient; so much so that they have produced over 80 collections have been processed in the past 6 years, while other collections have grown as well.
It is sometimes said that Archivists are better at looking backwards than forwards, yet the current momentum here at the Archives is yielding great promise for the future. The “archives project” has become a full fledged archival program, and we can only hope that going forward we will continue to strive to improve and preserve Hunterdon’s heritage for another 125 years and beyond.